Women’s soccer aims for key victories in top five matchups

After a 1-0 victory against Michigan in its home opener, USC will go on the road to play ACC powerhouses Duke and North Carolina.

Star junior forward Simone Jackson scored a goal to help the Trojans earn a 1-0 win over Michigan. (Tomoki Chien / Daily Trojan)

Amidst the chaos of move-in week at USC, women’s soccer settled in and beat Michigan 1-0 last Thursday in its home opener. Now, the Trojans look ahead to this weekend’s matchups against No. 4 Duke and No. 3 North Carolina. 

While the final score against Michigan may look close, statistics tell a different story. In the first half, USC held Michigan to just two shots, whereas the Trojans recorded nine. In the 22nd minute, junior forward Simone Jackson fired one of those shots into the back of the net, giving the Trojans an early lead. From there, USC’s defense took over, allowing Michigan zero shots on goal in the second half. 

Jackson continues to be one of the Trojans’ biggest threats on offense after recording six goals last season.

“She loves scoring goals and … is a handful for any defense,” said Head Coach Jane Alukonis in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “We’re really proud of what she’s been doing, and working hard on the defensive side as well.”

Another story of note is the graduate transfers the Trojans picked up over the offseason. Both graduate midfielder Keely Roy, from the University of California, Berkeley, and graduate defender Kayla Duran, from Boston College, saw minutes against Michigan. Alukonis also said that graduate midfielder Hannah Griffin, from Harvard University, will be cleared and eligible to play in games in the near future.

“[I’ve been] very pleased with all of them,” Alukonis said. “You always know bringing in a player who’s already succeeded at the college level, you’re hopeful that they can come and step in the lineup and make things happen. From a leadership standpoint, team culture standpoint … they’ve been really impressive.”

After having last Sunday’s matchup against the University of Georgia canceled due to Hurricane Hilary, which was downgraded to a tropical storm when it made landfall in California, the Trojans quickly looked ahead to this weekend’s matchups against the two top five powerhouses, the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels. 

In head-to-head matchups, USC is 1-2 against Duke, with the Blue Devils winning the most recent matchup in 2015. The Tar Heels beat the Trojans in their most recent matchup in the NCAA Quarterfinals in 2019 and are currently winning the head-to-head series 4-1.

The Trojans are the underdog in their upcoming matchups based on rankings. However, USC managed to defeat all four ranked opponents they played last season, including No. 1 UCLA and No. 6 TCU. This gives them all the confidence they need to come out of this weekend with two upset wins. 

“We know that if we go out there and work extremely hard and execute the game plan, then we’ll have a good shot at [beating] both [teams],” Alukonis said. “Duke is my alma mater, and we value the same things in terms of soccer … I know that both Duke and [North] Carolina will challenge us, but we’re just hoping to see the players to rise to the occasion and give everything they have.”

Like USC, Duke has one win under its belt, beating West Virginia 2-0 last Thursday. North Carolina has played two games, one of which was a tie against No. 10 Penn State and the other a win against Berkeley. Last season, the Blue Devils reached the NCAA Quarterfinals, ultimately falling to the 1-seeded University of Alabama. The Tar Heels marched all the way to the finals before losing in double overtime to UCLA. 

USC will play Duke in Durham, North Carolina Thursday at 7 p.m. and will then face North Carolina in Chapel Hill, North Carolina Sunday at 1 p.m.

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